Back home in Monza, Ferrari faces the reality of its path back to Formula 1 glory

When the gates open in front of the stands minutes after the end of the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, thousands of fans begin their rush onto the main straight at Autodromo Nazionale Monza.

Unlike other tracks, where the podium is located above the garage, at Monza there is a bridge that connects the podium to a main venue above the pit lane, allowing the fans to get up close to the drivers and stand in the shadow of the race winners. As flags were raised and torches were set off, the crowd exploded in celebration and colour.

This color is red.

Ferrari’s loyal fan base, known as typhous, Pilgrimage trails around the world with unparalleled enthusiasm. But they are especially eager to see one of their drivers on top of the podium at Monza, loudly singing the Italian national anthem after the Scuderia’s victory. As the only team to have competed in every Formula 1 season since the world championship was founded in 1950, it holds a special place in the series’ history. In many ways, Ferrari embodies Formula 1 racing.

But recent history at Monza has left the tifosi frustrated. Ferrari have achieved just one Italian Grand Prix victory in the past decade – Charles Leclerc’s 2019 victory – and only two in the 16 years since the team’s last drivers’ championship in 2007.

Ferrari’s homecoming is always a big moment in their season. It will mark the occasion this year with a customized livery and racing suits, incorporating more of the two-tone, yellow and retro helmet designs of Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz.

However, the possibility of either driver giving the Tifosi the victory of their dreams this weekend seems remote. 2023 has been a worrying and overwhelmingly confusing year for Ferrari, who have slumped in their bid to end their championship drought.

“It’s clear that in every subject, every pillar of performance, we have to take a step forward,” Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur said last week.

step back

This was supposed to be the season when Ferrari finally made a serious bid for the championship after many near misses.

Last season started with a lot of promise. After three races, Leclerc had won twice and led the championship by 34 points. He was 46 points ahead of eventual champion Max Verstappen, who claimed he had doubts about recovering from this deficit. Halfway through the season, Leclerc’s title bid seemed possible. But while Red Bull developed its RB18, Ferrari struggled to keep up. Sainz’s win at the British Grand Prix in July was the team’s last.

Changes followed. Team principal Mattia Binotto (a Ferrari member who rose to team principal in 2019) has been replaced by Alfa Romeo team principal Vasseur. And after examining what went wrong during the back half of 2022, Ferrari were hoping to come out strong, sparking optimism by revealing the SF-23 in February to the official Ferrari fan club.

Ferrari F1 Team Principal Fred Vasseur

“In every subject, every corner of the performance, we have to take a step forward,” said Fred Vasseur, Ferrari team principal. (Jakub Purzycki/Noor Photo via Getty Images)

The reality of Ferrari’s true pace became clear in pre-season testing. Not only has Red Bull taken a huge step forward, but so has Aston Martin. Ferrari and Mercedes were left mired in the battle to be second or third. As with last year, the car showed good potential over one qualifying lap but struggled in the race day distances.

This year’s high points, such as Leclerc’s sprints and Grand Prix in Baku and podium in Austria, were offset by more difficult races – like Miami, where Leclerc crashed in qualifying, and last week at Zandvoort, where Ferrari weren’t even in the top five.

“When I look back at the first part of the season, we missed a lot of chances,” said Vasseur. “It means we have to do a better job on this and be more opportunistic in the second part of the season.” He added that it would take “a little something special” to catch Mercedes second in the championship, with the gap now at 54 points (with Aston Martin in between).

However, the second will not satisfy the typhus. Only first will do.

The long road to recovery

Ferrari’s big weakness is its inconsistency. Even with the change to the side design as part of the major modernization package that arrived in Spain, the SF-23 was in particularly prime shape. Sainz and Leclerc have noted how a car can look very different even between tire components in a race. Unpredictability can pay off well: Ferrari expected to be poor at Spa, but Leclerc converted the pole position (inherited after Verstappen’s penalty) into a comfortably third.

Then there were the operational errors. Ferrari’s approach to strategy has been in the spotlight regularly for years. Prior to this season, Chief Strategy Officer Inaki Rueda was moved to a factory role. However, 2023 saw moments of confusion or frustration, notably on the part of Leclerc in the garage, as tense discussions took place over the team radio.

Radio calls to both Ferrari drivers have become regular meme fodder. Verstappen even seemed to refer to Ferrari’s radio messages with a joking answer after the Hungarian Grand Prix, joking: “Plan… F!” To Lando Norris in the same tone as Leclerc’s race engineer, Xavier Marcos Padros. While the lettered system has been carefully planned, Ferrari’s radio exchanges don’t paint a picture of confidence in the same focused way as Red Bull or Mercedes.

In terms of the car, Ferrari is already planning a major overhaul next year. Enrico Cardele, Ferrari’s head of chassis, said in Zandvoort that the new car “will be completely different because during the development of this year’s car, we realized that some of the architectural choices we made weren’t right.” “It was restricting development too much.

“Next year’s car will not be an evolution like this year’s car compared to last year’s car, but it will be a completely new car – different body with different design, different rear end to allow our (department) to develop the car better. The car to achieve their goals.”

The high points of 2023 such as Leclerc’s podium in Austria were offset by more challenging races. (Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Vasseur has been clear that he sees the Ferrari turnaround as a long-term project. He oversaw the recruitment drive and teased some “coming soon” announcements while lamenting a “stalemate” in Formula 1 contracts which means some staff will not join until 2024 or 2025 due to gardening leave.

But Vasseur also pledged to trust the existing group to set things right. “I don’t want to put off any goal because that would be the wrong message and the wrong motive,” he said. “We have to improve in every area and even when these people join the team we will continue to follow the same approach and have the same desire to develop, hire and improve. It’s nothing before and something after.”

Play the long game

Even if Ferrari can make great strides forward, the nature of Red Bull’s dominance means there is a huge gap to fill. Leclerc said Thursday in Zandvoort that he believes it will be “very difficult to catch up with (Red Bull) before the regulations change”, due in 2026. If that is the case, Ferrari’s championship drought, now 16, will will come close. The 21-year wait between Jody Scheckter’s title in 1979 and Michael Schumacher’s first Scuderia crown in 2000.

The anticipatory nature of both Italian fans and the Italian press means that with each year that passes without serious title competition, the pressure builds. No other F1 team holds the hopes of the nation. There is also Leclerc and Sainz’s competitive appetite that must be satiated, particularly as they both approach the final year of their contracts in 2024.

Leclerc has established himself as one of the best performing drivers on the Formula 1 grid, especially over a single lap. Give him a championship-quality car, and he’s sure to get into action. He has always sworn his dream remained to win a title with Ferrari, but as he nears the end of his contract he will be a hot asset in the drivers market.

Leclerc said in Zandvoort that his “intentions are clear” for the future and that he was “not too worried” about talks with Ferrari. “It’s not the priority right now,” he added. “We just want to try to work as much as possible on the car to be as competitive (as possible).”

Meanwhile, frequent rumor has it that Sainz is on Audi’s radar when it takes over at Sauber in 2026. The team is headed by Andreas Seidl, who worked with Sainz at McLaren in 2019 and 2020. Sainz stressed that he wanted to know his long-term team. future before entering the final year of his deal having previously struggled with uncertainty while at Renault and Toro Rosso. Vasseur said Ferrari is “allied” with Sainz on this front, but as with Leclerc, he has always said there is no need to rush talks with drivers for 2025 and beyond.

But the drivers are one area where Ferrari doesn’t need to think about making any changes. Realistically, there are few better formations on the Formula One grid. Equipping Leclerc and Sainz for the future would give some needed stability and avoid drawing energy from the bigger fires that need to be fought.

Both drivers will want to see changes and progress that will give them confidence in the long term. Racing for Ferrari is an honor that only a few drivers experience in their entire careers. Winning for Ferrari is rare.

La Pesta Magica

Regardless of the outcome, the Italian Grand Prix will be a celebration for Ferrari – as always. The special color is a nod to Ferrari’s outright victory at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, its first since 1965. Two drivers, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi, will attend the race with the winner’s trophy – the only major part. One of the silverware that Ferrari got this year.

It’s not the cup Tifosi really wants. Formula 1 has always been the true sign of Ferrari’s racing success. Tens of thousands of fans will flock to Monza – la Pesta Magica, Magical Path – This weekend. Everyone will have hopes that Leclerc or Sainz will give them a surprise win to celebrate. Everyone will know that the most likely outcome is a record tenth consecutive win for Verstappen.

Ferrari’s climb to the podium in 2022 has been greeted by fans with jubilation. (Dan Estetini – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Monza has produced some turmoil in recent years. Pierre Gasly’s victory for Alpha Tauri in 2020 made sister team Red Bull the latest Italian team to win at home, while Daniel Ricciardo took a shock victory for McLaren the following year. That could lead to more surprises and possibly some chances for Ferrari to pull off an amazing result.

Perhaps the hardest fact on Ferrari’s turf is that it’s very difficult to know where to stack them correctly. There is no real certainty as to how it will perform on any given weekend, as the highs are more than offset by the lows. Its prospects at Monza are a bit murky, especially given the tight competition for second place.

After a difficult weekend at Zandvoort, where Ferrari struggled to maintain pace throughout and were fortunate to emerge fifth thanks to Sainz, the drivers had mixed views on their chances at Monza. While Leclerc said “on paper” it does not look promising for Ferrari, while the more optimistic Sainz said the team “should get back to a decent place”.

“I know it sounds optimistic at the moment, but the volatility of our performance this year is so high that we might as well be looking to get back into the second or third fastest car at Monza, especially after such a good result at Spa,” he said. “I am more optimistic about that.”

This optimism is needed. It’s a long way back to the top, and it could take years for Ferrari to be in a position to fight for the championship again.

Despite Tifosi’s pride and passion, patience is his motto as Vasseur, Leclerc and Sainz look towards a brighter future in Maranello.

(Main image: Mark Thompson/Getty Images, ANP via Getty Images, Charles Coates/Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton, The Athletic)

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button